“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Pledge, as originally written for 1892 Columbus Day
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Pledge, as amended in 1924 to clarify allegiance to which nation
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Pledge, as amended in 1954 to clarify source of rights
Next year, exactly 50 years after the U.S. Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on whether that addition violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion.
It won’t be the first time the Court has ruled on the pledge. In 1943, the Court decided school boards could not expel students who refused to say the pledge. The issue currently before the Court is “whether a public school district policy that requires teachers to lead willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the words ‘under God,’ violates the Constitution.”
The case was prompted by Michael Newdow, a Sacramento doctor who sued on behalf of his daughter, who attended Elk Grove Unified School District in California. Newdow complained about his daughter having to observe her class reciting the pledge—a process he described as “a ritual proclaiming that there is a God.”
On June 26, 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled the recitation of the pledge with the words “under God” in public schools violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. On October 14, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up the case, with a ruling expected by next June.
“The statement that the United States is a nation ‘under God’ is an endorsement of religion,” concluded the Appeals Court. “It is a profession of a religious belief, namely, a belief in monotheism.”
U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson disagreed.
“Whatever else the Establishment Clause may prohibit, this court’s precedents make clear that it does not forbid the government from officially acknowledging the religious heritage, foundation and character of this nation,” argued Olson in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in May.
Olson’s argument was echoed in an amicus brief filed in support of the petitioners by the Knights of Columbus, a 1.7 million-member Catholic layman’s organization that was instrumental in getting the words “under God” added to the pledge in 1954. As the brief notes, members of the Knights of Columbus have long understood that “American concepts of freedom flow from an authority higher than the State.”
“Our American Government is founded on the concept of the individuality and the dignity of the human being. Underlying this concept is the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God and endowed by Him with certain inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp,” stated the House of Representatives’ 1954 report on the joint resolution adding “under God” to the Pledge.
“The Pledge, like the Declaration [of Independence], is a statement of political philosophy, not of theology,” argue the Knights in their brief. “Nevertheless, it is a statement of political philosophy that depends for its force on the premise that our rights are only inalienable because they inhere in a human nature that has been ‘endowed’ with such rights by its ‘Creator.'”
Further linking the pledge to the Declaration, the brief concludes: “If reciting the Pledge is now unconstitutional because it refers to a nation ‘under God,’ then reading aloud the Declaration of Independence, which refers to the Creator as the source of our rights, must at least be suspect. That turns the American theory of rights exactly on its head.”
More than 30 states have laws calling for the daily recitation of the pledge, according to the Education Commission of the States. In July, a federal court ruled a Pennsylvania pledge law unconstitutional, and in August, a federal judge blocked a Colorado pledge law.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].
For more information …
The Knights of Columbus amicus brief, plus a range of other resources on the Pledge of Allegiance issue, is available online at the Web site of the Pew Forum at http://pewforum.org/religion-schools/pledge/.
James Clavell’s disturbing book, The Children’s Story (Delacorte Press, 1981, first published in 1963), tells how easy it is for a young child’s view of the Pledge of Allegiance and the flag to be completely turned around by a new teacher in just 20 minutes of class time.